As our freezer supply of beef begins to run low, we assess the status of my in-laws' supply of beef and decide when to "put up" an animal. The process takes about 3 months, so we have to have a good idea of how much meat we will eat for a few months before the freezer is ready for another animal. To "put up" an animal, we have to dedicate a Saturday, usually in September or October, to round up the cows. This all day event requires my father-in-law, husband, and now, my oldest son, to herd the cattle into the corral by the barn. They usually use this opportunity to tag any animals without tags, castrate any bull calfs as needed, and apply worming medicine. As the cows are "worked" as we call it, they are released back into the pasture, one at a time. My father-in-law then studies the remaining steers and decides whether to sell any and which one (or two) to "put up" for beef. During this all day process, I take on the very important role of staying out of the way, in the house with any small children.
Now, before the small children came along, I would participate in the cattle round-up, usually by standing alongside and asking very important questions such as "Why are you keeping those cows separate?"
"Because those are the steers."
"What is a steer?"
"A bull calf that has been castrated."
"Say What?!?! Ok, why are they castrated?"
"Because we only need one bull in the herd."
"Lucky dude....So, what happens to the steers?"
"We sell them."
"Why not sell the girls?"
"Because they make babies."
"Oh. Good reason. What are you doing with that cow?"
"That's not a cow. That's a heifer."
"Heifer. A girl who has not had a calf yet."
"But it's still a cow, right?"
"No, it's a heifer."
"Ok, but that's a cow, right?"
"No, that's the bull."
Sorry, but when I was in preschool, a four-legged hairy animal that stood out in the pasture and said, "mooooo" was a cow. Now, after several years of trial and error, I know the difference between a cow, bull, heifer, steer, and bull calf (a boy calf that has not yet been....you know), except for when my 3 year old has to correct me.
So, once the steers have been singled out to eventually find their resting place in our freezers, they stay in the corral for about 2 months, eating like kings on sweet feed.....if they only knew. Once they are good and fat, we load them up into the trailer and haul them away to the butcher. At the butcher, they are slaughtered, skinned and then hung in a refrigerator for about 2 weeks. During these two weeks, I am reminded on a regular basis that we need to be "eating from the freezer" in order to make room for the new beef. On the designated day (today, in this story), the butcher cuts and packages the beef, and we go pick it up and bring it home to the freezer.
Guess what we're having for dinner tonight? And no, it's not chicken.